I have a question about anti-piracy measures. (It still seems so odd to use that phrase not in conjunction with the entertainment industry.) I'm familiar with the ongoing debate about the wisdom and efficacy of arming the crews of commercial ships as a possible defense against hijacking. Among other issues, ship owners fret about the fact that most merchant sailors lack combat training, that a large cache of guns might make their vessels a target for marauders specifically trolling for weapons, that on-board firefights could lead to accidental fires or other disasters, that any move toward arming ships could provoke an unwinnable arms race with well-funded pirates, and that many ports' severe restrictions against vessels' docking with on-board arsenals could complicate shipping routes.

Fair enough. But even if you don't want a pirate sighting to result in the captain's handing out Kalashnikovs to every able-bodied sailor on board, would it be worth hiring a handful of sharp shooters to travel on ships headed for hazardous waterways? The number of weapons needed to outfit these dead-eyes would be limited, so you wouldn't have to worry about your ship being seen as a floating gun store and you'd have a better shot at negotiating permission to dock at all but the most restrictive ports. The operating strategy would be to pick the pirates off before they made it onto the vessel, preferrably at a distance that would limit the opportunities for a full-on firefight. Better still, a couple of boatloads of pirates approaching in the open ocean would presumably make for a clearer target than a sniper dug in somewhere on a massive tanker. 

Obviously, there would be risks. Perhaps most grimly, if some portion of the pirates made it onto the boat and seized the sharp-shooters, the situation would almost certainly turn bloody. Then again, the Somali villains have already vowed to up the American body counts as payback for the killing of their compatriots. Maybe they're bluffing. But if I'm an merchant seaman, I'm starting to think twice about relying on all the usual methods of prevention. 

I'm not arguing that this is the best way to handle the problem. I'm just wondering if it's a remotely plausible option for helping to combat this bizarrely reinvigorated brand of lawlessness.

--Michelle Cottle